Richard Boyer, ancient monument restorer

25 févr. 2020

Richard Boyer is a heritage fanatic who is taking part in the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris. Read his story.

 For the past twenty years, I have been employed by Socra, a company that specialises in restoring and preserving works of art and ancient monuments. Today I am the company’s general manager.

 My passion for heritage dates back to childhood. I developed an early interest in art, history and archaelogy. I then went on to study history of art at university, specialising in ancient materials. I then joined Socra, which gave me the opportunity to work on some fascinating projects, in some wonderful spots, in France as well as abroad. I was lucky enough to experience some very special moments, like watching the sun set over the gardens of Versailles, from the quiet and empty Hall of Mirrors... My projects lead me to work with some fascinating and very diverse people – chief architects of the Monuments historiques, art historians, craftspeople, state representatives… After all these years, I am still just as elated about doing my job !

Our work on the cathedral started in 2019, as part of the larger project of restoration of the spire. Socra was selected to perform the renovation of the copper statues, which are located at its base. On 11 April, we removed these statues in order to store them away in our studio in Périgueux.

 © Richard Boyer

Four days later, Notre-Dame caught fire, and the spire fell to the ground. Everything moved very quickly after that. We got a call the next day, just like all the companies that were working for the cathedral at the time. We had to act fast in order to protect the stone statues that were threatening the stability of the North and South facades of the transept. We also shared contacts in order to find the experts who would be able to protect the monument. I stayed for three whole weeks – enough time to make sure the statues were secure, remove the chandeliers, help with logistics…

 © DRAC IdF-David Bordes

What I felt on the night of the fire, and the next morning when I visited the site, is hard to describe. I will never forget the first few hours I spent there, the silence, the smell, the smoke coming out of the last fires which remained under the firemen’s constant watch. As a restorer of built heritage sites, dedicated to safeguarding the smallest traces of the past, consolidating the smallest scales of polychromy or refixing fragments of sculpture, seeing Notre-Dame engulfed in flames was definitely a moment of great distress for me.

However, I prefer to remember the positive. This challenging time created very strong bonds between all the people who were involved in the project at the time. The rooster which sat above the spire lost its shape as it fell, but it was found again. I am also thinking of the copper statues of the apostles and evangelists which were taken out a few days before the fire and could thus be saved… Our priority now is to accomplish our mission : restoring these statues that are, need I stress this, the last remains of the spire of Notre-Dame, and continue, wherever we can, to preserve our heritage.